Finally got my hands on Lanier’s book. Been devouring it like a good doughnut.
In the last post I explained how Sartre sets up this paradox: we are what we are, but precisely part of our being is that we are not simply what we are.
Having got some way into the book, it’s clear that this paradox vexes Lanier too. “What is a person?” he asks.
If I knew the answer to that, I might be able to program an artificial person in a computer. But I can’t. Being a person is not a pat formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith.
Just a few paragraphs later though, he admits that:
technologists ‘make up extensions to our being, like remote eyes and ears (webcams and mobile phones). These become the structures by which you connect to the world and other people. These structures in turn can change how you conceive of yourself and the world. It takes only a tiny group of engineers to create technology that can shape the entire future of human experience…
In other words, I am not a gadget. But my gadgets do recreate who I am. It’s not called the iPod for nothing…
The troubling thing about this paradox is that the ‘lock in’ which becomes inevitable in a technological world leaves us open to restriction, not liberation. As Lanier explores, technology companies like Apple and Microsoft sell us their wares on a ticket of freedom – but actually we are often being restricted by a lock-in – your iPod to iTunes for example.
This only occurs because of the paradox of our existence. If we were, in Sartre’s language, fully transcendent, we would not be able to be locked in. And if we were fully defined by facticity, we would be locked in already. It’s the paradox of our existence coming into being in the place between facticity and transcendence that means that we are able to be duped by corporations and technologies into thinking that they are making us more free.
For corporations and technologies, read religions and laws. For what is ‘lock in’ other than a codification – an idea reduced to code. And this is precisely what we find in ‘the law’ – the law that is peddled by religions purporting to offer ‘freedom.’
So, and I promise I’ll will get to it in the next post, it’s to this problem of theological lock in, and the effect this has on our person, that we need to reflect on.